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Your Local Guide
My family had the good sense to relocate to the Bay Area when I was a kid. I finally moved into the city proper when I attended the Art Institute in the 70’s. That doesn’t make me a native, but still I’ve seen a lot go down (and quite a few things up) during my forty-plus years in the Cool Gray City By the Bay. It’s all been memorable. Every era has had something cool or crazy going on. Partly because of the people who always seem to show up, some them the strangest, and most wayward individuals you will ever want to meet. In SF, we pride ourselves on being cosmopolitan to the core, and liberal-minded. It’s a place where you hang up your hang ups, as they say. “Whatever you’re into, that’s cool with me,” has been the mindset since the heyday of the Haight Ashbury. Maybe that’s why I’ve never been able to stop hanging around. Why am I a guide? Because I want to help people get away from the rat race of course! And, I want to enjoy people who help remind me not to fall into the rat race myself. That makes working at Extranomical just about perfect.
Trips Guided by Robin
- City Insider's
- Redwoods and Wine Country
- Muir Woods Expedition
- Wine Lover's Tour
- Total Yosemite Experience
- 1) The funky Eastern waterfront - At the end of Mariposa Street is the “funky” side of the waterfront. This is where the dry docks are, the boat repair shops, the San francisco Bay Trail and the newly hip section known as Dogpatch. Thing is, if it’s a sunny day or even just a mild one, the weather will be nicer here than at Fisherman’s Wharf or anyplace else in the city. This is the time you want to hang out on the patio at the Ramp Restaurant for a Bloody Mary or two. The view is nice. The people are friendly and the seagulls go,“Erk! Erk! Erk! Erk!” The burgers aren’t bad either.
- 2) Go bar hopping - The 200 block of Columbus Avenue has at least 3 classic bars that look more or less the way they did when I first blew into town. Who says, “change is good?” Personally, I like it the way they pour it year after year at these three watering holes: Tosca has opera on the juke box and a steaming cauldron that spews chocolaty cappuccinos laced with Armagnac and Bourbon. Specs’ Museum Cafe remains the eternal anti-hipster with a gallery of weird artifacts to stare at between pops. And Vesuvio, across the street, still has the same old sign painted above the door: “We’re itching to get out of Portland, Oregon.” Why? Because there was a flea epidemic there in 1948, of course.
- 3) Breath some ozone - Get into the Victorian botanical groove at the Conservatory of Flowers, a stately greenhouse assembled in 1879—the oldest of Golden Gate Park’s many attractions. Why do I say, “assembled,” not “constructed?” Because the Conservatory arrived from England in crates for the personal use of a wealthy businessman (James Lick) who died before its 16,000 panes of glass could be put together. Not only does the Conservatory inspire with wondrous architecture, it provides a lungful of ozone. Or is it trioxygen? Whatever it is, the jungly plants and lily pond produce the most tranquil aroma this side of the tropics.
- 4) Wander among the houseboats - The houseboats of Sausalito are amazing. I almost hate to mention them because they aren’t a tourist destination per se. I can’t help myself because the place is so insanely charming. This is the best artifact from the Bay Area’s grand countercultural experiment in my opinion. In the 60’s, they came, they found floating debris, they conquered. It is the most eclectic neighborhood imaginable with a wild variety of incredibly quaint floating bungalows. One has an old pullman car built inside it. One looks like the Taj Mahal. One is sculpted over an abandoned pile driver. Lot’s of interesting people have lived here too. Alan Watts, and Stewart Brand. Otis Redding wrote Sitting On a Dock In the Bay from one of the Sausalito houseboats.
- 5) Hang out on the bleeding cultural edge - In other words, go to the Mission District and wander. This is the hippest part of the city today and the place where the local Latino culture (Low Rider knows every street, yeah...) tries desperately to coexist with the new techie/hipster playground (“It’s, like, a social media consultancy thing, dude!”) spreading out from the Valencia Street corridor. The stuff that’s going on in the Mission District manages to be both disruptive and creative at the same time. Be brave and take a look. The Mission is the most dynamic of SF neighborhoods.
- 6) Pier 24 - Pier 24 is my favorite museum at the moment. It’s a photo museum housed in an old pier almost underneath the Bay Bridge. It’s a beautiful space, and every time I go, there are usually only a few other patrons in the galleries. This makes it possible to actually look at things without contending with a row of heads to partially block the view. All the shows are thought provoking. It’s a private museum built around the collection of Andy Pilara, a stockbroker with a an excellent eye. Interesting.
- 7) Take the Oaktown Ferry - Everybody takes the ferry to Sausalito. Personally, I like the Oakland ferry just as much. It’s a wonderful and inexpensive ride across the bay with the added attraction of sailing through the Oakland Estuary. Some of the biggest ships in the world are being loaded and unloaded there. It’s a unique and dramatic view. You can catch the ferry beside San Francisco’s Ferry Building and visit the grand food court while you’re waiting. The Ferry Building is a survivor of the Great SF Earthquake and Fire and today has become a foodie destination. Jack London Square is worth a look too. My favorite thing there? Yoshi’s Japanese restaurant that happens to also be the Bay Area’s finest jazz club.
- 8) People watch - You can do it anywhere in the city. There are always delegates from the brotherhood (and sisterhood!) of the delightfully weird in every SF crowd. Just hang around Powell and Market for 30 minutes. I mean, why pay good money for a show when there’s one on the street every day of the year?
- 9) Go Victorian - It’s wonderful that there are so many surviving Victorian Houses in San Francisco but, honestly, once you get inside the front door, most of them have been remodeled. The kitchens are new, the amenities are modern and few of the details are original. How can you experience the feel of a true Victorian home? On Franklin Street near Washington is the Haas-Lilienthal House, a stately home built by the Haas family in 1886. Today it's maintained as a museum of Victorian life by the San Francisco Heritage Society. I can’t recommend a visit enough. Step back in time. Check out the elaborate bathroom plumbing, the maid’s quarters, the multiple parlors, the window that doubles as a door. There are other oddities to be seen as well, all of them Victorian in taste and craftsmanship, such as the elaborate doll house and the handmade toy trains. The amazing stroke of good luck is that this family, for whatever reason, never renovated the original house, and the furnishings are true to the period.
- 10) Wolf House - Jack London casts a long shadow over the Bay Area even now, a century after his death. There are numerous places with his name attached to them and rightfully so. Most notably, there is Jack London Square in Oakland. He was a prolific and talented author who happened to be extremely popular. Many of his books relate to life in the Bay Area at the turn of the 20th Century. The thing that many people miss, is that Jack’s homes—both the cottage where he lived, and the ruins of his mansion, called “Wolf House”—are just up the road from Sonoma Town Square. Today the place is called, Jack London State Park in the Valley of the Moon. Find natural beauty and history here, but even more, feel the mystery of Jack London that still hovers.